SEMINOLE — The Seminole City Council will make the final decision regarding the contract between the Seminole Professional Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2896 and the city at a July 15 public hearing at Seminole City Hall.
The public hearing was set after the city’s contract negotiations team, led by city manager Ann Toney-Deal, rejected a special magistrate’s supplemental decision to side with the firefighters regarding wages and other areas of concern.
During last year’s collective bargaining, the Local 2896 declared an impasse May 30, 2018, bringing negotiations to a standstill. Their contract expired Sept. 30 and Seminole Fire Rescue employees have worked without a contract since Oct. 1.
Special Magistrate Edward J. Gutman heard from both sides during an Oct. 11 due process hearing at city hall. He later requested additional information on their wages and benefits proposals.
In January, Gutman submitted his decision to both parties. In his formal decision, he sided with the union on many of the areas of dispute presented to him, including sick leave, vacation and holiday pay, seniority and reduction in force, grievance procedure, and pension.
The special magistrate failed to provide a decision on wages, which was the primary area of concern during negotiations, though.
After the decision was made, the city submitted a settlement proposal for a three-year contract to the union. This settlement called for a “salary increase of 5 percent for each of the three years of the proposed contract” if individuals receive a “satisfactory evaluation” during their annual reviews, City Manager Ann Toney-Deal wrote in a March 23 email.
She added, that this new proposal “would represent a 15.76+ percent salary increase when you compound the 5 percent over the three-year period.”
The union did not accept the new proposal, though.
“The city did come with a new offer, but it only addressed wages and ignored the other articles that are lacking, even though the impartial third party special magistrate recommended for the union on almost all of those issues thus far. So, the union had no choice but to turn [it] down,” wrote Jeremy Newton, union president, in a March 21 email.
The union requested that Gutman reconsider his decision and make a recommendation regarding wages.
Gutman submitted his decision to both sides last month. In this decision, he recommended that the city accept the union’s wage plan proposal.
This decision, he wrote, is “based on the evidence of wages and other comparisons, the interest of the public, the hazards of a firefighter’s daily work, the physical qualification of their job, the need for employees’ job security, [and] the availability of funds.”
Gutman also wrote that the city’s wage proposal, which is based on a comparison to wages of other city employees, is “misplaced.”
In a recent interview, Newton said, “We really thought these negotiations would go a lot better than they have.”
He said SFR employees had been affected by a pay freeze for several years prior to the current negotiations. Because of this, the department has experienced significant turnover in recent years. He said the wage proposal would bring the firefighters’ pay back to where it should be.
He also said that none of the union’s requests would affect taxpayers. While working on their contract negotiations, the union was “very conscious” about ensuring their requests would not increase taxes in the city, he said.
In a June 17 email to the Beacon, Toney-Deal wrote that in Gutman’s original decision, he recommended that the contract not include a wage progression plan.
“Then in his ‘supplemental decision’ he does not explain why he first recommended a pay plan without a wage progression plan ([also called a] step plan) but now is recommending that a step plan be included in the pay plan,” she wrote.
The city’s Notice of Rejection of Gutman’s final recommendations states that the special magistrate “did not issue a supplemental decision addressing the issue of wages, he issued an amended decision, which includes treatment of wages and repeats his rulings on all other disputed issues. The decision is nothing more than a wholesale adoption of the union’s original proposal with no justification other than the special magistrate’s conclusion is ‘fair and just.’”